Saturday, January 05, 2008

Maj Andrew Olmsted - Rest in Peace

Maj Andrew Olmsted was a soldier serving in Iraq. He was a prolific blogger for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and on a blog called Obsidian Wings where he posted as G'Kar. In his initial posting in the News, on his blog called From the Front Lines, from May 2007, Andrew wrote:

I hope to bring a snapshot of what so many U.S. troops are doing back for the average American to read about and understand. My specific experiences will be unique to me but I hope that they will serve to bring a picture of the war that is sometimes hard to bring into focus for the people back home.
It seems that he did bring a snapshot to the average American, so few of whom know anyone who is serving their country in the military, let alone anyone who has died. Yes, Maj Olmsted and another member of his unit, Capt Tom Casey, were killed in Iraq on 1/3/08.

Andrew had thought about the possibility of his death, and while unlikely; still, he had provided his friend at Obsidian Wings with a "last letter" or final post. His final posting is a gift. In his final blog posting, Andrew asked eloquently that no one use his death to support their politics. He also gave little indication in that posting to his own political feelings.

I do ask (not that I'm in a position to enforce this) that no one try to use my death to further their political purposes. I went to Iraq and did what I did for my reasons, not yours. My life isn't a chit to be used to bludgeon people to silence on either side. If you think the U.S. should stay in Iraq, don't drag me into it by claiming that somehow my death demands us staying in Iraq. If you think the U.S. ought to get out tomorrow, don't cite my name as an example of someone's life who was wasted by our mission in Iraq. I have my own opinions about what we should do about Iraq, but since I'm not around to expound on them I'd prefer others not try and use me as some kind of moral capital to support a position I probably didn't support. Further, this is tough enough on my family without their having to see my picture being used in some rally or my name being cited for some political purpose. You can fight political battles without hurting my family, and I'd prefer that you did so.

Andrew's final story is not about politics, it is about the raw wounds that are the result of a soldier's death. It is about those left behind to find a new normal without Andrew. The final story on the web, with the news of Andrew's death apparently began on 1.3.08 at 4:09 with a heart wrenching post to Andrew's Times blog, from Tom Casey's brother

My name is Jeff Casey and I am CAPT Tom Casey's younger brother. Three army guard members arrived at our door today to tell us that Tom was killed in
small arms fire today (1/3/08). They also told us that both his wife and my monther had already been notified of which neither had actually occoured. I am writing to you to determine if my brother has actually fallen in small arms fire like they said or if the army got that piece of information wrong as well. If you get this and the information turns out to be false, please have Tom contact us as soon as possible. Thank you

The nightmare for family and friends had just begun with this first pebble dropping into the water. Because of Andrew's blogs, news of Andrew & Tom's deaths would soon touch the lives of so many average Americans. While Andrew's blogging had given insight into the average Joe's life in Iraq, the announcement of his death would actually affect his many reader's and those who would hear of Andrew in his death. For many, it would be their first touch of a war death.

The people who knew Andrew and the people who knew of him are different. The people who knew him; his family, his friends, soldiers he had met along his career, school mates, teachers, friends of family, etc suffer this casualty first hand. And when people know "of" a soldier who has died and there is some connection through a family member, a family member's co-worker, a newspaper article, a website, a blog posting, the war hits home and becomes personal and very real. As a parent of a fallen soldier, we do not know that our loved one's life touched others and we do not know how. With the internet, amazingly, we soon find out.

I did not know Andrew, but with the announcement of his death, I soon knew of him. Andrew had become the face of a soldier serving in Iraq to his readers as many posted. He engaged with followers of his blog and many considered Andrew to be a friend. That the internet allows people to widely share their "Andrew story" at his death is a concept or phenomenon that would have been unknown in less technological times. It becomes important for people who hear news, especially like this, to document their feelings somewhere. That there is one or more repository on this world wide web, these comments and postings becomes part of the fabric of this soldier's life.

On Memorial Day 2004, when the announcement of my son, Lt Ken Ballard's death became public, the comments on his website started arriving within hours. I'm not sure if the comments brought more comfort to Ken's family and friends or to those who posted their emotions and heartbreak. We were finding out how this devastating news was affecting us and we would soon find out how it affected others. As the news spread, the number of postings to his website increased, arriving every few minutes. While I was trying to process the news that Ken was never coming home, at the same time I was finding out that my son had touched so many people along the way and that people needed to let me know. I was finding out that people did care about the soldiers, my soldier, and they needed to tell me. I will always be grateful for those people who took the time to write.

The responses to Andrew's death at his final posting are raw, gut wrenching and honest. The news of a soldier's death should be all of the above. If you can read through them and not weep, I worry about your soul. It soon becomes apparent how Andrew's war death touched so many lives.

Jesus Christ. I'm sitting here crying at my desk.
Posted by: LizardBreath January 04, 2008 at 01:18 PM
I don't think I've ever cried at work before.
Posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw January 04, 2008 at 01:21 PM
No words.
Posted by: john miller January 04, 2008 at 01:28 PM
My condolences to Andy's friends and family and this community.
Posted by: (No) Free Lunch January04, 2008 at 01:31 PM
Oh, no.
Posted by: Katherine January 04, 2008 at 01:32 PM
OMG. I’m dumbstruck. This is so awful.
Posted by: OCSteve January 04, 2008 at 01:34 PM
I had to read the first couple of sentences a few times to understand (believe?) what I was reading. What awful news.

Posted by: hairshirthedonist January 04, 2008 at 01:36 PM
I'm just numb here. I hate this damn war.
Posted by: Incertus (Brian) January04, 2008 at 01:37 PM
Oh my god.
I have a stack of DVDs about to go out in the mail to him, per email discussion.
Oh. My. God.
Nightmares come true for so many of us.
Fucking fuckding
fucking god.
Posted by: Gary Farber January 04, 2008 at 01:37 PM
I am flabbergasted. In utter disbelief. Hilzoy, is there anything we as a community can do for Andrew's family? Simple condolences hardly seem sufficient.
Posted by: Phil January 04, 2008 at 01:38 PM
Lucky me gets to cry at home.
I was worried that something was up yesterday -- Andy had said he'd be online and wasn't, and then, by chance, I saw a press release about two people being killed in an ambush in Diyala, and a third wounded. I was telling myself it wasn't Andy, and that the internet service was down, ever since.
Andy was such a great person. That was one of our points of disagreement, though. I just wish I had done a better job of convincing him on that one point, or that he could have seen himself the way other people did, if only for a moment.

Posted by: hilzoy January 04, 2008 at 01:40 PM
His poor family.
Posted by: Cala January 04, 2008 at 01:43 PM
Oh, no. :( Like several of the folks before me, I've got tears now.
What Phil asks, about his family.
Posted by: Bruce Baugh January04, 2008 at 01:43 PM
I feel like I've been kicked in the gut.
Oh, god, no.
Sorry, G'kar/Andy: I'm crying for you, and I'm
enraged at how your life was thrown away.

Posted by: CaseyL January04, 2008 at 01:43 PM
I'm with LB. What a fine man.
Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet January04, 2008 at 01:44 PM
I can't speak. I just vomited.
I was going to the post office this afternoon to mail him the disks

and so many more.....

The story of Andrew's death caught fire in the blogosphere. Andrew's story was picked up and linked to dozens of blogs and news stories. Even as Andrew's story put such a public face to this war, it is no different from other US military casualties, in that families and friends of 3909 casualties are devastated by the loss and have to figure out how to go on without their loved one. I don't doubt that their responses were not the same as those of Andrew's friends. Being touched by the war changes your life, regardless of your politics.

In his final post, Andrew cautions us too think about a decision to go to war If everyone who feels this pain (of my death) keeps that in mind the next time we have to decide whether or not war is a good idea, perhaps it will help us to make a more informed decision. Because it is pretty clear that the average American would not have supported the Iraq War had they known the costs going in. I am far too cynical to believe that any future debate over war will be any less vitriolic or emotional, but perhaps a few more people will realize just what those costs can be the next time.

Nearly 5 years into the occupation of Iraq, it surprises me that for many, this is the first time that they have been touched by the war. It is an example of how the burdens and sacrifices of this war are affecting only a small percentage, 1%, of Americans- the military and their families. Regardless of your politics, the death of a soldier, every soldier should affect you. They are dying in your name. The military is following orders of their Commander in Chief, the president. Regardless of your politics, you can (and should) support the warrior even if you do not support the war.

As another Gold Star mom, I offer my condolences and virtual hugs to the Casey and Olmsted families and friends during this difficult time. It doesn't get better; it just gets different.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My heart dies a little but every DOD death announcement I read. It dies a lot every funeral I have gone to for young military in my area that have been killed.
We visited the Arlington grave of a young Marine from my area who was killed in the summer of 2004. We left some flowers and other mementos at his grave and took a picture. Your son's grave is directly behind his and in the picture. I just want to tell you that we read all of their headstones and grieved their losses . Reading the pictures and notes left by family and their military buddies was heart wrenching.